Autism research: Weekly in review

adn iconIn autism, focus is on the right eye, just below the eye.

A new research published in the Journal of Vision has found that children with autism tend to focus on a person’s right eye more than the left while looking at the face. Also, the kids tend to avoid the pupils, the black spot of the eyes that other typically growing peers focus on during facial recognition. Instead, autistic kids focus just below the eye and look at the face for lesser periods than their peers do. The study involved 20 Chinese autistic kids, 21 intelligence-matched controls and another 21 age-matched children as controls. The gaze-tracking apparatus found that the autistic participants performed poorly at face recognition than both the control groups. It also noted that the children with autism shifted gaze from right to left eye and vice versa lesser compared to the controls. The study lead by Li Yi could help develop educational devices customized for kids with autism.

Autism prevents identified social misbehavior from being reported

Children and adolescents with autism cannot easily identify socially inappropriate behaviour, is a known fact. A new study by Elizabeth Carter from the renowned Carnegie Mellon University has found that even when identified, autistic kids find it difficult to express why they found the behaviour inappropriate and put it into spoken language. With the help of advanced functional MRI scans, the team studied 12 children with autism and 13 typically developing children. Using a social and physical condition each to judge socially inappropriate behaviour, the team weighed the two groups’ answers. They found that the group with children having autism had a lesser usage of language networks during the task. The task requiring minimal use of language found both groups of children performing equally well. During the social task, the team found that the control group used language even when unnecessary showing application of knowledge of language wherever possible, while this was not the case with the study group.

The paper concluded that children with autism probably do not automatically apply language while encoding social situations, making usage, expression and general application of the knowledge task more difficult. The study helps understand the functioning of a child and might help in better education and teacher training for kids attending special classes for autism.

Genetic link uncovered between epilepsy and autism

A study published in the prestigious journal Nature has found a connecting link between epilepsy and autism. Mutated GABRB3 gene, known to be associated with autism has also been found in severe epilepsy in childhood. Many new genetic mutations too have been found to overlap with the Fragile X syndrome which is thought to be the most common cause for autism. Also, the fact that about one third of children with autism also suffer from epilepsy, gives weight to the possibility of a more common causal origin between the two supposedly different neuropsychiatric disorders. The team lead has helped narrow the gap between the two conditions and hopefully will help reduce the bridge between diagnoses and cure as well.

This is not the first time this connection has been suspected.  A study reported in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in January 2013, produced similar results.  An Austrian team of researchers reported the possible association between childhood absence epilepsy and the gene encoding GABRB3 back in 1999.